To Fight Global Warming We Must Tax All Recreational Exercise

A recent Lancet article argued that obesity is contributing to global warming because the obese consume more calories.

Since making food releases carbon, that means an obese person, on average, is worse for global warming than a skinny person. (Not to mention the extra methane the obese might release, but that is my father’s area of expertise, not my own.)

Just to put these arguments into perspective, I made some simple calculations for the United States.

Let’s say that food production is responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — although I suspect that is too high. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 were the equivalent of roughly 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. If food production accounts for 20 percent, then food production resulted in the emission of 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to Wikipedia, the social cost of a ton of carbon dioxide is $12. So the greenhouse gases released to make the food Americans ate in 2006 had a social cost of $16.8 billion.

There are about 300 million Americans who consume about 1,500 calories per day. If my calculations are correct, then the appropriate global warming tax would be about $1 for every ten thousand calories consumed.

According to the Lancet article, the obese consume about 400 extra calories per day. So the appropriate tax on the obese to account for their extra global warming impact would be a little over $1 per month.

In other words, the effect is too small to even be talking about.

But as long as we are having the conversation, if we want to blame the obese for global warming, those who engage in recreational exercise like jogging or biking for pleasure should surely be discouraged from doing so because of global warming.

Someone who jogs an hour per day burns an extra 1,000 calories daily … far more than an obese person. Such wasteful burning of calories must be discouraged if we are to save the planet.

I hereby call for the next president of the United States to pass legislation imposing a carbon tax of 10 cents per hour on all recreational burning of calories. To save the planet, we must encourage people to sit at home and burn as few calories as possible.


Ryan

I love how we still believe man-made global warming is actually legitimate...

Branwyn

It's amazing how people don't understand parody when they see it.

In the Lancet, a medical journal, two statisticians playing with ... numbers "proved" how obese people were the 'cause' of global warming, global food shortages, and global economies tanking.

The so-called news media (in a FINE display of yellow journalism) took the letter these statisticians wrote and called it a "report" by "experts" without saying what the gentlemen were "experts" of.

The numbers they used to justify their so-called findings were bogus. They basically took numbers out of thin air and arbitrarily decided on how many calories a healthy non-obese person eats (2500, by the way), and then increased what an obese person eats by a certain percentage. What it doesn't take into consideration is that many obeses people's bodies are efficient in holding onto the calories they do eat, or that individual caloric intakes do vary.

They decided that obese people don't exercise as much as non-obese people. Then they calculated how much more fuel the obese people use. Except: the assumption that fat=lazy is just that, an assumption (and you know what that say about assuming), the type of vehicle a person drives has a BIG impact on how much fuel they use (a Hummer will ALWAYS use more fuel than a Prius, no matter how big or little the driver is), and how far a person HAS to drive has a big impact too (when I lived in the country with no public transport, and worked 60 miles away from my house, the closest job I could get at the time, I filled up my Ford Escort's tank 3.5 times a week, now, I live 10 miles from work, and fill up my tank once every two weeks).

The numbers lie. Or rather, the way these two so-called experts manipulated the numbers lie.

Yet people go on and on and on about how the "experts" have proven that obese people are to blaim for the worlds problems. Right. Makes perfect sense to me.

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tracy

Wait, I'm confused. So Levitt says obese people's high food consumption causes a greater than average amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Replies #3, #10, #22, etc in effect say that all those skinny models who drop dead from malnutrition actually had super high metabolisms that just kept on burning all that food they consumed?

So Kate Moss is not only rich, gorgeous (well, depends on you) and skinny but a major carbon producer... life-altering revelation there.

But seriously, that slow metabolic rate excuse is such a joke. By the time obese people are, well, obese, they have higher BMR (basal metabolic rate-- "at rest" metabolic rate, more or less) Think of it as taking more energy for the heart to pump blood, lungs to push air in and out, etc.

This greenhouse gas problem sucks not because it sucks per se, but no one can exactly figure out what the exact problem is... which obviously sucks.

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Skeptic

Since aerobic exercise produces perspiration, which ends up as water vapor (a more potent greenhouse gas), shouldn't we include that in the tax considerations? :)

Kal

Perhaps this is a question for the King of Farts, but doesn't a healthier diet produce more methane, a more damaging, yet less abundant greenhouse gas.

luke

the mistake you make is that you assume that all foods are even in terms of greenhouse gas production, thus a tax on calories is flawed. it would be like taxing the miles driven in a car, regardless of its fuel efficiency. sure, eating steak might be like driving an SUV, but eating tofu is probably closer to driving a subcompact.

of course, a defacto tax on excercise could be achieved with... a greenhouse gas tax! the higher- GHG foods get a tax, which is in turn passed on to those who excercise and thus eat more.

frankenduf

that article is on the wrong side of the chicken/egg- obese people don't increase food production- rather, increased food production leads to greater incidence of obesity

running man

I jog often, and occasionally on a treadmill where I can get an estimate of calories burned. I weigh 185. Running at a pace of about 7 mph (which is a pretty decent pace - about an 8:20 mile), I burn at a rate of a little over 1000 cals per hour. So although it is true that it depends on what kind of running you're talking about (speed, weight of the runner, hills, etc.), 1000 cal per hour is certainly not a far-fetched number. That said, I think there are few runners, outside of serious marathon trainers, who average 7 miles a day over the course of a year.

Jack

Don't fat people sequester more carbon than skinny people. Was that considered in your equation?

Helen

This post makes clear why so few, if any, economists make stand-up comedy one of their hobbies.

Sharon Villines

The problem with your argument on obese people eating more is that is it just not generally true. Obese people typically have a metabolic rate of 10 while the lean have a rate of 14 or above. This means an obese person can sit across from a lean person, eat the same amount of food and end up almost twice the size.

Dean

Can I get a tax credit if I use a stationary bike or a giant hamster wheel attached to a generator?

Logical Extremes

The athletic tend to live longer, too, so they are responsible for even more carbon per lifetime than average or inactive people.

Ignacio

I think you are quite optimistic when assessing the finess of amateur athletes. As a rule of thunb, a runner burns about 100 calories per mile and most runners cannot hold a six-minute-mile pace for an hour. For most people, a more realistic assumption is that a runner burns 600 to 800 miles per hour.

Douglas

Hypothesis: Making up statistics will rile up people and draw attention to me.

Test Procedure: Made up statistics with erroneous data.

Conclusion: Bestselling book, syndicated column. Hypothesis proven correct.

Gautham Krishnan

The conclusion that obese people are contributing more green house gases is absurd, coz people who are obese needn't necessarily be eating more calories. Its just that their metabolism is not high enough to burn them. So this again lands up in the question whether lean people contribute more that what we presume them to contribute. Ofcourse people who are like "Jughead" might eat a couple of thousand calories and may still end up being slim. So there is absolutely no correlation between being obese and a being a greater contributer of GHG.
Having said that what people can ideally do is that use a bike to go to nearby places instead of using a gas guzzling SUV. That will burn the calorie, keep you healthy and burn less of gasoline; thereby contributing less GHG.
There is also something called as the net aggregate carbon factor for food items, which is the total energy spent on it for production. So a person who is eating more food which is locally sourced will not be contributing to as much as GHG as a person who is buying food which is transported from a far off place.
The problem arises not because of higher calorie consumption. Its the economic and social cost for not being healthy that contributes to more GHG and asset/resource erosion than by burning a few hundred calories more.

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RR

Yet another reason to ban performance enhancing drugs.

Eric

The costs associated with obesity don't end with calculating extra food consumed. An obese person requires more fuel to transport themselves from A to B and are less likely to walk or take public transportation than a person with a lower BMI. I understand that this article was a bit tongue in cheek but when you factor in the slew of obesity related diseases and the disproportionate strain that they put on our health care system, we may be better off if we subsidized burning calories for sport...

Jeremy

Why hasn't anyone thought of the children? How many calories has the President's Physical Fitness Test made people consume? Surely, the government is at fault for greenhouse emissions too!

Damian

One can take this to all sorts of extremes, not all of which I personally disagree with. Within the past few years, the Sierra Club has had some massive internal battles over whether to openly oppose illegal immigration (and, perhaps, immigration in general). It is indisputable that preventing illegal immigration would benefit the environment within the U.S., preventing the depletion of resources and some amount of pollution. Politically correct forces within the organization succeeded in preventing it from taking that position. (And yes, I realize that global warming is a global issue, not a domestic one ... one might imagine, however, that a Mexican in Mexico would probably contribute less to global warming than a Mexican in Los Angeles or Phoenix.)